Whole books have been written about the two important Spanish verbs: ser and estar. This will be the subject of our discussion for the next few lessons. Soon, you will have a very good understanding of how these two verbs are used.
Ser and estar can both be translated as "to be." Here is the English verb, fully conjugated:
I am you are he/she is we are you-all are they are
Notice that these two sentences can have different meanings in English.
The apple is green. (Meaning the apple is not ripe.)
The apple is green. (Meaning the color of the apple is green.)
In the first case, our example speaks of the condition of the apple. The apple is green because it has not yet ripened. When the condition of the apple changes, that is, when it has ripened, it will no longer be green, it will be ripe.
In the second case, our example speaks of the essential characteristics of the apple. The apple is green in color. This particular apple remains green even after it has ripened.
In English, the verb "to be" can be used to tell how something is (the condition) and what something is (the essence).
How is the apple? It is unripe.
What color is the apple? It is green.
In Spanish, a different verb is used to express "to be" depending on whether the speaker intends to address a condition or an essential quality.
La manzana está verde. The apple is green. (condition)
La manzana es verde. The apple is green. (essence)
Note how the adjective "verde" actually changes meaning, depending upon whether it is used with ser or estar.
La manzana está verde. (condition: verde = unripe)
La manzana es verde. (essential characteristic: verde = color green)
To address condition, use estar. Estar is an irregular verb. It does not follow the standard rules of conjugation for regular -ar verbs. Therefore, you must memorize it.
estoy estás está estamos estáis están
To address an essential quality, use ser. Ser is also irregular and must be memorized.
soy eres es somos sois son
If you are talking about what something is, use ser; if you are talking about how something is, use estar.
What is she like? She is quiet. Use ser: Ella es callada.
How is she acting? She is being quiet. Use estar: Ella está callada.